The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) says it has spent or committed more than $5 billion for reconstruction efforts in Iraq, making it the agency's largest aid plan since World War II.
USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios says the agency has partnered with Iraqi ministries, the World Bank, the European Union (EU), Japan and U.N. agencies to carry out the reconstruction plan.
The agency says work on a major power plant and a water treatment facility is almost complete. More than 100 health care centers have been renovated. Classrooms have new desks, chalkboards and textbooks.
But Mr. Natsios adds that a major accomplishment in Iraq is also the most difficult to see, a strong foundation for democracy.
"If you have to ask me, perhaps, one of the most important things we are doing that is least visible to the outside world, but most visible to most Iraqis, it is our work in the area of local government," he noted. "There are 12,000 locally elected officials in the city and town councils. I suspect you will see many of these people run for higher office."
USAID has committed more than $200 million specifically to local governance in order to strengthen city and provincial administrations and to promote civic participation. In Mr. Natsios' words, a "vibrant democratic culture" has already developed at the local level.
He explains that democracy has sprung roots in Iraq, in part, because of the well-educated older generation of people.
"Because of that elite and because there was at one time, 25 years ago, a functioning middle class, you have the basis for a democratic system," he explained. "People, I think, who are looking at the events or the insurgency are not looking at the larger inherent strengths of Iraqi society and they are the large size of the technocratic elite, the competence of the Iraqis, their value system in terms of being very proud of their country, being very work-oriented. They have a work discipline that's very important."
The USAID says the reconstruction program also includes more than $500 million dollars worth of water and sanitation projects, such as the rehabilitation of wastewater treatment plants to prevent Baghdad's sewage from being dumped directly into the Tigris River.
The agency says health-related accomplishments so far include the renovation of more than 100 health care centers and vaccination campaigns that reached three million Iraqi children. The agency also says in recent weeks it was able to resume its efforts to provide basic medical equipment and supplies to health care centers throughout Iraq. The program had been stopped due to security concerns.
Educational achievements include the reconstruction of more than 2500 schools and the training of more than 30,000 school teachers. Mr. Natsios says the enrollment of girls in schools has increased, and students now have nine million new textbooks.
Administrator Natsios says the USAID reconstruction effort in Iraq, which has already topped $5 billion, is comparable to the post WWII Marshall Plan under which America provided billions of dollars in aid to help rebuild Europe.